Brussels, 8 February 2012
Interim Report on Progress under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism in Bulgaria
Why does the Commission report on progress in judicial reform, the fight against corruption and the fight against organised crime in Bulgaria?
Upon accession of Bulgaria on 1 January 2007, certain weaknesses remained in the areas of judicial reform, the fight against corruption and organised crime that could prevent an effective application of EU laws, policies and programmes, and prevent Bulgarians from enjoying their full rights as EU citizens. Therefore, the Commission took the obligation within the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism1 to assist Bulgaria to remedy these shortcomings but also to regularly verify progress against six benchmarks set for this purpose. These benchmarks are interlinked and should be seen together as part of a broad reform of the judicial system and the fight against corruption and organised crime for which a long-term political commitment is needed.
How does the Commission report on progress in Bulgaria?
The Commission's reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) are published twice a year. The reports are based on contributions from the Bulgarian Government, the Commission services, Member States and NGOs.
The last report published on 20 July 2011 pointed to Bulgaria's commitment to pursue judicial reform, to strengthen legislation on conflict of interest and to start a structural reform within the police and the criminal court system. At the same time, the report also took note of missing results in the fight against high-level corruption and of the need to step up the fight against organised crime. The report concluded that improvements in accountability and professional practice within the judiciary and the investigative authorities were required and underlined the need for stronger legislation on asset forfeiture.
Ahead of the Commission's overall assessment of progress in Bulgaria under the CVM since accession which the Commission will deliver in summer this year, the present report consists of a technical update on significant developments since July 2011. It focuses on Bulgaria's response to the Commission's recommendations included in the last report and does not contain a full assessment of progress achieved.
What does today's report say?
Today's report points to a number of main developments in response to the recommendations issued by the Commission in the last report.
For example, the new specialised court and prosecution office for organised crime have started work, the Commission for the Identification and Forfeiture of Criminal Assets has delivered significant results and the newly established commission to identify and sanction conflicts of interest has taken its first decisions. In addition, Bulgaria initiated measures to improve judicial practice, the organisation of the prosecution and the cooperation between the different authorities. The report also points to areas where further progress is expected in the coming months. These include adopting the asset forfeiture legislation, taking a more comprehensive approach in reforming judicial and investigative practice, enhancing the role of the Supreme Judicial Council in the reform of the judiciary and achieving convincing results in the fight against corruption and organised crime.
What are the next steps?
The report analyses the action taken against the recommendations made by the Commission last July. Developments in Bulgaria over recent months point to a need for stronger action in a number of areas to implement the Commission's recommendations.
For example, a new law on asset forfeiture currently under debate in Parliament, needs to be comprehensive, and backed up with strong institutions. An analysis of shortcomings in judicial and investigative practice in important cases should be undertaken in a comprehensive way, and promotions and appraisals within the judiciary should be fully transparent and objective. A reform of the election process of the Supreme Judicial Council is needed to enhance the Council's transparency and integrity and as an important step towards a fundamental reform of the judicial system. The track record of decisions and penalties in cases related to high-level corruption, fraud and organised crime under investigation and in court should demonstrate the convincing results needed to provide effective dissuasion.
Further efforts are needed during the coming months in order to demonstrate convincing results and to contribute to the Commission's overall assessment in summer 2012 of progress achieved by Bulgaria under the CVM since its accession to the EU. The Commission will continue to support Bulgaria in its reform efforts.
What are the six benchmarks set for Bulgaria?
The following benchmarks have been set for Bulgaria in the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism:
Adopt constitutional amendments removing any ambiguity regarding the independence and accountability of the judicial system.
Ensure a more transparent and efficient judicial process by adopting and implementing a new judicial system act and the new civil procedure code. Report on the impact of these new laws and of the penal and administrative procedure code, notably on the pre-trial phase.
Continue the reform of the judiciary in order to enhance professionalism, accountability and efficiency. Evaluate the impact of this reform and publish the results annually.
Conduct and report on professional, non-partisan investigations into allegations of high-level corruption. Report on internal inspections of public institutions and on the publication of assets of high-level officials.
Take further measures to prevent and fight corruption, in particular at the borders and within local government.
Implement a strategy to fight organised crime, focussing on serious crime, money laundering as well as on the systematic confiscation of assets of criminals. Report on new and ongoing investigations, indictments and convictions in these areas.
Where can the report be found?
The report is available on the following website:
Commission Decision 2006/929/EC of 13 December 2006 establishing a mechanism for cooperation and verification of progress in Bulgaria to address specific benchmarks in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption and organized crime (OJ L 354, 14.12.2006, p. 58).